The veterinary community has named November as Senior Pet Health Month. Since our canine friends have shorter life spans, it is important to make the most of their time with us. Nutrition, exercise, regular veterinary care, and other lifestyle choices can lengthen and enhance their lives. Each dog is different and deserves a plan tailored for them and their varied needs.

Multiplying your dog’s age by seven is not an accurate way to relate them to human years. Generally, a dog is considered to be “senior” in the last third of her expected lifespan. This can differ depending on breed; small breeds tend to live longer than large breeds.


As with anything you read on the internet, always consult your veterinarian to before making changes to your dog’s health and treatment plan. More frequent veterinary care can be expected for senior pets. Increasing their visits to twice a year rather than once a year is recommended. Often the veterinarian recommends checking bloodwork, which can tell us more information than what we can see on the outside. Detecting diseases early allows for easier, often less expensive and more successful treatment.

As your dog ages you may notice some of the following physical and behavioral changes:

  • Weight gain (often due to less activity)
  • Weight loss (often due to lack of appetite)
  • Nodules or lumps under skin
  • Hearing loss
  • Vision loss (often starts with night vision)
  • Health problems including arthritis, dental disease, heart disease, or reduced kidney function, or incontinence.
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increase or decrease in thirst
  • Lethargy or loss of interest in exercise
  • Difficulty breathing, especially after exercise
  • Hesitation on stairs, to jump, or to get up
  • Sudden aggression, fear, or anxiety
  • Confusion, disorientation, wandering
  • Lack of cleanliness
  • Irritability
  • Barking at nothing

Common Health Problems:

  • Arthritis- lameness, stiffness, trouble jumping or getting up
  • Cancer- lumps, significant change in weight, extended abdomen
  • Dental disease- lost teeth, gum inflammation, malodorous breath
  • Diabetes- increased thirst and urination,
  • Heart disease- decreased exercise tolerance, weakness, coughing, gagging
  • Incontinence- inability to hold their urine as long, urine or BM accidents, urinating while sleeping.
  • Kidney Disease- increased water consumption and urination
  • Senility- Our pets can have “senior moments” just like us.


As your dog ages, their nutritional requirements also change. Food formulated for senior dogs have reduced calories and fat, higher protein, and often include vitamins and supplements such as Glucosamine and Omega fatty acids. There is prescription food specifically tailored for health conditions such as kidney disease, liver disease, heart disease, etc. The formulas can help alleviate the symptoms and/or slow the progression of disease.

What can I do at home?

  • Nutrition/weight- Feed them a nutritional food and help them maintain a healthy weight. Extra weight can put more pressure on sore, arthritic joints.
  • OTC Supplements- Adding Glucosamine, Omega fatty acids, fish oil, etc. to your pet’s diet can benefit many different body systems.
  • Keep moving- Don’t stop taking your dog for walks just because it becomes more difficult. Go on shorter, slower walks. Walk them in water to decrease the impact on their joints. A regimen in our underwater treadmill in the winter may be just the tune-up needed to get them back in motion.
  • Steps/Ramps- If jumping up on the bed is too difficult, provide steps. If stairs become to challenging, provide them with a ramp.
  • Observation- You know your pets best; you see them every day. Sharing your observations with your veterinarian may be the key to successful diagnosis and treatment.


How do you know when it is time?

This topic can be an entire blog in itself. In summary, you must be the voice for your pet. Sometimes they give you hints; not doing their normal routine, no longer enjoying their favorite things, and having more bad days than good days. Again, consult your veterinary professionals. We can help you understand your pet’s health issues and make an informed decision.

The team at Bemidji Veterinary Hospital is here to help. Let’s discuss your dog’s specific needs. Schedule an appointment, stop in, or give us a call at 751-2753.